By Matthew Young, RealWV
January 23, 2023
CHARLESTON, W.VA. – The W.Va. Senate, on Monday, passed the Committee Substitute for SB 59 – which seeks to add additional restrictions to, and shorten the length of unemployment benefits.
As explained by Sen. Jack David Woodrum, R-Summers, the Committee Substitute adds two provisions to “to increase the integrity of the unemployment insurance program by requiring the commissioner to verify the identity of applicants and review suspicious claims.”
“The bill will also index benefits to the state average unemployment rate,” Woodrum continued. “If the unemployment rate is below 5.5%, then benefits are limited to a maximum duration of 12 weeks.”
According to Woodrum, benefits will be extended by one additional week for each 0.5% the unemployment rate rises. However, the benefits period would not surpass 20 weeks regardless of the current unemployment rate.
In addition to the benefits period being shortened, should the bill become law, eligibility requirements will also be tightened. Recipients would now be required to apply for open employment positions within one 0week of being notified by the Work Force Commission. However, recipients would still be eligible for their full weekly rate should they choose to accept part time employment.
Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, stood in opposition of the bill, saying, “I support any efforts to get rid of fraudulent claims within our system. I think if someone is gaming the system, they should be prosecuted.”
“I look around this chamber, and I see a lot of very successful businessmen and women,” Caputo continued. “I don’t know how many of you ever had to survive on unemployment benefits. There was a time when folks were laid off for years. But somehow – for some reason – this bill reduces the number of weeks that a worker can collect unemployment benefits.”
“Today, an unfortunate worker who gets laid off can get a maximum of 26 weeks,” Caputo added. “If this bill passes, it will be anywhere from a minimum of 12 weeks to a maximum of 20 weeks. Things get tough sometimes, and sometimes 26 weeks is not enough. But I do know that 12 is not enough. And I do know that 20 is not enough when you’re trying to pay the light bill and you’re trying to provide for your kids the same as other families get to provide for their kids.”
“I have to speak my mind when I see injustices occurring, especially to the men and women who make West Virginia go,” Caputo concluded. “I’m a no vote.”
As the floor debate came to a close, Woodrum stated that variations of SB 59 have proven successful in other states, adding, “Most of our (West Virginia’s) unemployment workers are under the 12 weeks, and I believe you’re not going to see any significant changes.”
Under the terms of the bill, “low earnings” employees (those hired as a full time employee, but reduced to part time due to lack of work) would be required to meet the same eligibility requirements, and also be limited to 12 weeks of benefits.
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 27 to 5, with two senators absent.